Takout to share
by Lee Lawrence, Micheline Maynard, Ruth Estabrook, Eileen Hoekstra
From the March, 2021 issue
Though dining rooms opened at reduced capacity in February, for reasons of age, preexisting condition, or simple caution, some of us are still choosing to eat at home. Fortunately, when we tire of cooking or ordering delivery a la carte, there's an easy option for sitting down to a shared dinner: ordering a hot "family meal" for takeout.
For this roundup, we excluded meals that required preparation, even if it's just time in the oven or microwave. Observer reviewers Lee Lawrence and Micheline Maynard tried places whose offerings caught their eye, while Ruth Estabrook and Eileen Hoekstra responded to an invitation to readers of our a2view 'e-newsletter to share their family-meal experiences. Here's what they found.
If your family is, like ours, a unit of two, "family meals" feeding four to six might hold no interest. After a year of unending pandemic home cooking, though, with an increasingly worn rotation of the usual suspects, I've come to appreciate extra servings as another meal planned, bought, and executed, needing only an easy--and sometimes optional--reheating. Whatever the reputation of leftovers in your household pre-pandemic, you may, like me, now find them a treasured bonus.
As we hoped, Mac's Acadian Seafood Shack's jambalaya dinner was generous enough to provide us an additional dinner and lunch. Chock-full of chicken, sausage, and the optional shrimp I ordered, the rice tasted more of straight tomato sauce than Creole spices. The meal came with warm rolls and, oddly, a three-quarter-pint container of coleslaw (too little for four and incongruous with the jambalaya), though for an additional charge we could have substituted a more congenial house salad. Mac's also offers three other pasta- or rice-based family meals, a weekly feature, and an array of large-sized starters and extras. I ordered a quart of seafood gumbo we enjoyed at lunch the next day.
Mac's Acadian Seafood Shack, 104 E. Michigan, Saline. (734) 944-6227. Mon.-Thurs. 4-8 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 4-8:30 p.m. Closed Sun. macsinsaline.com.
cater to the smaller family, with meals it advertises as serving two to four, and with a few lighter, more sophisticated--and more expensive--'dishes. Yes, deep-dish pizza and fried chicken are on their list, but so are salmon, filet mignon, gnocchi, and duck confit potpie. One frigid night we ordered the potpie, envisioning a foil pan weighted, beneath a puff pastry cap, with boneless nuggets of duck confit, chunks of root vegetables, and trumpet mushrooms enrobed in a red wine sauce. No sides come with this one-dish meal, but we added on a beet salad from the list of extras and desserts.
What my husband brought home was essentially two orders--at some 'discount--of the potpie from the regular menu and a minuscule and quite pricey Halloumi-beet salad that would hardly satisfy one. Both were delicious, though, and the puff pastry vessels, filled with tiny cubes of saucy vegetables and topped with whole duck legs, held up surprisingly well in their coated cardboard carryout containers. Perhaps not a meal for a family with more kids than adults--unless you add on that deep-dish pizza.
Vinology, 110 S. Main. (734) 222-9841. Mon.-Wed. 4 p.m.-8 p.m., Thurs. 4 p.m.-9 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 4 p.m.-11 p.m., Sun. 4 p.m.-9 p.m. Brunch Sat. & Sun. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. vinologya2.com
On its online menu, Miss Kim lists multi-servings dishes under "bulk food," allowing you to construct your own meal out of a few entrees, soups, sides, sauces, and condiments. Many of the items come in varying quantities, appropriate for families, parties of four to ten, or for ongoing use. A stash of their ginger-scallion vinaigrette has been dressing my salads for the last couple of weeks. For dinner one night, three of us ordered the Korean fried chicken and found it a distant second to Seoul Street's version, but the fried smashed potatoes and mu radish kimchi compensated. Since the bulk food category rather neglects starters and vegetables, I also dipped into the regular menu for single servings of fried glazed tofu and fish caramel broccolini; both were fabulous and plenty alongside the rest of the food.
Miss Kim, 415 N. Fifth Ave. (Kerrytown Shops). (734) 275-0099. Daily 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m. misskimannarbor.com
Back in the days when we could travel freely, I had a collection of favorite barbecue places across the country, from Chicago to Kansas City, across Texas and Alabama, and even in Syracuse, N.Y.
Compared with that playground, I've always felt our local barbecue choices are pretty limited. I'm still mourning the disappearance of Mr. Rib.
These days, my primary choice is Satchel's BBQ. Although it closed its downtown location last year, Satchel's has regrouped in its original spot on 'Washtenaw, and they've joined the 'family-meal brigade.
Satchel's family meals come in three sizes--for two to three people ($23-$39), for five to six people ($56-$78), and for eight to nine people ($84-$117). Each size allows diners a choice of two types of protein, such as ribs, brisket, chicken, pulled pork, or kielbasa. Although it's not listed on the menu, Satchel's let me swap in its newest offering, salmon, for the same price as brisket.
Our meal for two came with a choice of two sides, which include mac and cheese, two types of coleslaw, beans, red beans and rice, potato salad, mashed potatoes, greens, and black-eyed peas. The package also includes four large cups of barbecue sauce and three pieces of cornbread.
We ordered a small combination of salmon and dry ribs, with mashed potatoes and gravy, and vinegar coleslaw. Presentation was minimal: the proteins were wrapped in foil and then packed in clamshell boxes. The sides came in paper containers with lids.
The portions were plentiful, however, and everything was still hot after a 'twenty-minute drive home.
We got two meals out of the meal for two or three people. The salmon was thoroughly cooked, with a faint smoky flavor. The ribs were falling off the bone, requiring a fork to spear up the succulent meat.
The leftovers let me do some 'experimenting--or assembling, as I like to call it: adding my own ingredients to carry-out food. I cooked rice noodles and tossed them with the vinegar coleslaw, then added bite-sized bits of salmon and drizzled it with tahini for a Middle Eastern flair.
At $39 plus tip, the order worked out to about $11 per hearty meal. Satchel's earns my highest dining compliment: I'd order this again, even when restaurants go back to full capacity.
Satchel's BBQ, 3035 Washtenaw Ave., (734) 971-5100. Daily 11 a.m.-8 p.m. satchelsbbq.com
I recently ordered one of the Gandy Dancer's "parties to-go" for a birthday brunch, and it was fantastic! I chose to order a few days in advance because this was a special event, but same-day and online ordering and delivery through third-party services are available.
The Gandy Dancer offers seven family meals for curbside pickup, ranging in price from $65 to $105. The "family shrimp and artichoke pasta" and the "family steak and [crab] cakes" both sounded amazing, but I ultimately chose the cedar-roasted salmon.
The to-go experience was seamless. Ordering over the phone was simple. Upon my arrival, the order was brought right out to my car. When I arrived home (about a ten-minute drive), the food was hot and, happily, prepared exactly as I have come to expect in the Gandy Dancer's dining room.
The four salmon portions each arrived on their own cedar plank, which made for an excellent presentation and "wow factor." With whipped potatoes, broccolini, salad, and bread, there was plenty of food to serve four adult lunch portions as well as two kids, ages seven and three.
This was the easiest (and safest) brunch I've ever organized. In fact, it was such a success we are busy planning the next celebration so we can enjoy another Gandy Dancer family meal to-go!
The Gandy Dancer, 401 Depot. (734) 769-0592. Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m., Sat. noon-8:30 p.m., Sun. 10:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. muer.com
We ordered from Blue Tractor's "family-style" carryout menu when my oldest two kids were home from college. Our family of five chose two. The $30 "slider meal kit" includes a pound of meat (we chose half pulled pork and half smoked chicken), a dozen slider rolls, a quart of coleslaw, sweet and smoky sauce, sweet and spicy pickles, and a large paper clamshell of house-made barbecue potato chips. The $45 "BBQ mac & cheese dinner" added a half-pan of smoked macaroni and cheese, another pound of pulled pork, four corn muffins, and sauce. We added a $10 order of nachos off the regular menu.
Ordering online was easy, and pickup was very quick at dinnertime (under an hour). My son called when he arrived at the curb, and they brought out the bags of food to the car.
Only the nachos didn't travel well (as we probably should have known!). It was a lot of food--enough for several leftover lunches. Our total was just over $100 with tax and tip, which is very reasonable for the quantity and quality of food. Fun fact: they give you your own little 8 oz. squeezy bottle of barbecue sauce!
Blue Tractor BBQ & Brewery, 207 E. Washington. (734) 222-4095. Mon.-Fri. 4 p.m.-9:30 p.m., Sat & Sun. noon-9:30 p.m. bluetractor.net
I'm not sure takeout family meals will survive the pandemic. After all, the point of restaurants is that each person gets to eat the individual dinner he or she wants. But now, when few are going to restaurants, and ordering several takeout dinners requires coordination and cooperation, it makes sense for the family "cook" to order one meal, packaged together in a few containers and bags, to plop on the table and call it dinner--another meal, crossed off the list, and few dishes to wash. Can we call family meals the joy of not cooking?
[Originally published in March, 2021.]
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